A new brain imaging system shows promise in improving diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease, an incurable degenerative brain disorder, claims a new study.

Apart from detecting Parkinson’s in the early stages, the procedure, known as diffusion tensor imaging (DTI), could pave the way for a more effective treatment plan that could slow or even stop the progression of the disease.

Diffusion tensor imaging technique utilized
During a three year study period, the researchers evaluated 72 patients, each with a clinically defined movement disorder diagnosis.

They used DTI, a non-invasive method that scans the dispersion of water molecules within the brain and can pin-point vital areas that have been affected as a result of damage to gray matter and white matter in the brain. The procedure helped them classify patients into distinct disorder groups rather accurately.

David Vaillancourt, associate professor in the department of applied physiology and kinesiology and the study’s principal investigator stated, “The purpose of this study is to identify markers in the brain that differentiate movement disorders which have clinical symptoms that overlap, making [the disorders] difficult to distinguish.

He added, “No other imaging, cerebrospinal fluid or blood marker has been this successful at differentiating these disorders The results are very promising.”

The research will be published in the journal Movement Disorders.

Parkinson’s disease
Parkinson’s disease is a neurodegenerative movement disorder of the central nervous system caused by the death of cells in the brain that secrete the neurotransmitter dopamine. Patients have a deficit of this important chemical because of degeneration in an area of the brain stem where it is made–the substantia nigra.

The disease is characterized by tremors, rigidity, slow movement, poor balance, and difficulty in walking. Signs of the disease first tend to appear in patients over 50.

PD is chronic and progressive with symptoms growing steadily worse over time. In the later stages the condition can include cognitive and behavioral disturbances, sleep disorders, lack of appetite, difficulty eating, periods of remaining motionless (known as “freezing”).

According to the National Parkinson Foundation, the disorder affects nearly 60,000 Americans each year.

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